South Korea will spend 560 billion won ($441m) on improving its defences against drones, the country’s defence ministry said on Wednesday, after a military scare from the North that set off jitters in Seoul.
On Monday, five North Korean drones entered the South’s airspace, prompting the military to scramble fighter jets and attack helicopters. But the South’s response failed to bring any of the drones down, prompting an angry statement from President Yoon Suk-yeol and an apology from the military. It was the first time a North Korean drone has entered South Korean airspace since the 2018 inter-Korean military pact.
Under South Korea’s newly unveiled budget, the country aims to spend 331.4 trillion won ($261bn) in all on defence until 2027, with an average annual increase of 6.8 percent.
On Wednesday, Yoon said any provocation by North Korea must be met with retaliation without hesitation despite its nuclear weapons.
“We must punish and retaliate against any provocation by North Korea. That is the most powerful means to deter provocations,” Yoon said in a meeting with his aides, according to his press secretary Kim Eun-hye. “We must not fear or hesitate because North Korea has nuclear weapons.”
Monday’s intrusion triggered criticism in South Korea of its air defences. Yoon chided the military, highlighting its failure to bring down the drones while they flew over South Korea for hours.
South Korea responded on Monday by sending drones over North Korea for three hours.
Defence minister Lee Jong-sup told parliament on Wednesday that Yoon had ordered him to send drones into North Korea in response to any incursion “even if that means risking escalation”.
South Korea’s military has apologised for its response and said it could not shoot down the drones because they were too small.
Tensions have been rising between North Korea and United States ally South Korea since Yoon’s conservative government took over in May, promising a tougher line with their northern neighbour.
North Korea has also been pressing on with the development of its weapons with numerous missile tests this year amid speculation it could test a nuclear weapon for a seventh time.
South Korea’s increased defence spending will include the development of an airborne laser weapon and a signal jammer. The military plans to increase its drone capabilities to three squadrons.
South Korea also aims to procure more stealth jets and ballistic missile submarines and to accelerate the development of systems to intercept rockets, the ministry said.
“We will strengthen our … retaliation capability to be able to destroy key facilities anywhere in North Korea in case of its nuclear attack or use of weapons of mass destruction,” the ministry said in a statement.
Defence expenditure is subject to parliamentary approval.